Golf

Padraig Harrington backs Rory McIlroy to hit winning trail again

Rory McIlroy on the 18th green on day one of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Ballyliffin golf club, Donegal on Thursday July 5 2018
Andy Hampson

PADRAIG Harrington claims it is only a matter of time before Rory McIlroy starts winning majors again despite rivals having caught up with him.

McIlroy, the former world number one, has not added to his major tally since winning the Open and US PGA Championship back to back in 2014.

Harrington puts this down to increased competition in the elite game but he has no doubt the Co Down man, who bids for a second Open title at Carnoustie this week, will eventually end his drought.

Speaking on his return to the scene of his 2007 Open success, Harrington said: “Rory’s obviously played well this year and yet seems to be getting a lot of press saying he’s not playing so well.

“Clearly his career is now solely based on how he does in the majors. There seems to be no other yardstick for Rory, and that’s probably the yardstick he uses himself.

“I think back in 2011 he had stolen a march on the field when it came to driving the golf ball, which brought tremendous confidence to his game. I think players have caught up. 

“There are many players who drive the ball [to a] comparable [standard] and have certainly eaten into that advantage.

“It’s just a tougher ask but the beauty for Rory is he’s still very young, he’s still very capable, and with patience those majors will come.”

Fourteen-time major winner Tiger Woods will be in the field at Carnoustie this week, his first Open since 2015.

Woods has not won any of golf’s most coveted individual tournaments since 2008, but his 2006 Open triumph at Hoylake came in similar hard and dry conditions to those which may prevail this week.

“He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it,” said two-time Open winner Harrington. “I don’t think he could play golf like the way he played in 2006 at Hoylake – but nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now.

“But he’s definitely capable of winning this week. His game is good enough.”

As for himself, Harrington will take time to “smell the roses” as he returns to the scene of his first major title.

The Dubliner defeated Sergio Garcia in a play-off in 2007 and successfully defended the title 12 months later at Royal Birkdale, finishing four shots ahead of Ian Poulter.

“I’m coming back as kind of a defending champion although Jordan [Spieth] won last year and it does make it a little more special,” Harrington said.

“I’m quite familiar with Carnoustie so it’s not the same as Birkdale but it’s always nice to be back in a place where you’ve played well, and I will make the effort to enjoy myself this week. I’ll make the effort to smell the roses.”

Harrington believes experience will be key this week with the course playing extremely hard and fast following a lengthy dry spell in Scotland.

“Links experience is exceptionally important. You’d have to go back to Hoylake in 2006 to see something as fiery,” the 46-year-old added. 

“It does play into the hands of guys who can thread the ball around.

“The great thing about this golf course is you can’t take all the trouble out, you are going to have to take some risk. 

“It’s very difficult to play short of the bunkers all the time.”

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